Workplace Solutions Respiratory protection Workplace exposures

Respiratory protection in the age of COVID-19

When it comes to respiratory protection, what important lessons have been learned from COVID-19?


Responding is Jack Hartley, content specialist, RPB Safety, Royal Oak, MI.

This year’s events have been devastating, not only in the United States but globally. From the extreme financial pressures to the immense loss of life, COVID-19 has left a destructive path, changing the lives of everyone in its way. In these difficult times, we should reflect and search for lessons so we can learn and become better equipped to handle anything that is thrown at us in the future.

During the pandemic, a topic that has been brought to everyone’s attention and raised some important issues is respiratory protection. COVID-19 being a respiratory illness has highlighted the significance of protecting our respiratory system to saves lives. From this, many lessons have been learned. Three key ones are being prepared at work, seeking better alternative protection and the importance of American-made products.

Respirator demand globally has skyrocketed, diminishing stock worldwide. For the general public, surgical and N95 masks have been needed to protect people in their daily lives. However, this has impacted workers who require this personal protective equipment for their occupation.

Workers at hospitals – arguably one of the most essential services – have had to wear disposable respirators for entire shifts before changing them, increasing the likelihood of spreading infection as the respirators become ineffective and contaminated. In industrial settings, employers unable to provide their staff with respirators have had to close their doors because they’re no longer compliant. In these settings, there are significant implications to both health and financial well-being. Being prepared by having sufficient supplies to last the increased lead times or seeking alternative respiratory protection can make a significant difference in your ability to cope and mitigate the impact of a pandemic.

The transmission of infection, along with the reduced ability to source respirators, has pushed people to seek better alternatives. Because the spread of infection can occur via direct or indirect aerosolization of the virus entering either the respiratory system or through moisture in the eyes, people are reconsidering the protection gained from conventional N95 masks and looking for alternatives that cover the entire face.

One type of respirator that’s been instrumental in facilitating that change is a loose-fitting respirator. Unlike masks, these use positive pressure, letting users breathe as they would normally, reducing the demand on the lungs when compared with negative-pressure respirators. They also provide a far greater level of respiratory protection and comfort than masks. With a longer life cycle for these products, financial benefits include reduced consumable costs.

Lastly, buy American made. With borders closed, nonessential businesses shutting down and strained international shipping services, sourcing products and materials from outside the United States is proving difficult. Buying American made means faster lead times, economic growth and more jobs for Americans as we band together to protect each other.


Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.


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